I became acquainted with Lovers when I was coming out and dating a girl for the first time. Having Lovers as background for my evolving sexuality was the perfect soundtrack within my discoveries. Vocalist Carolyn Berk, sound artist Kerby Ferris and percussionist Emily Kingan initially met in 2002 when Berk was the prime act behind Lovers’ first five albums, ultimately coming together as a triangular musical act in time for their 2010 album release, Darklight. The evolution of Lovers is important—you could say it parallels a woman’s Saturn returning in her late ‘20s, a transit of facing shadows, becoming bolder and learning how to love oneself.
Where earlier ambitions brought lyrics full of pain and loss, love and tension, graveyards, mason jars, skeleton bones and outerspace, there still remains a Northwest punch familiar to Lovers listeners who revel in their enchanting, angsty lyrics. Their seventh album, A Friend in the World, recorded at the Type Foundry in Portland, is a collection of music that will swallow up fans who grabbed a hold of the electronica pitter-patter of Darklight. The trio describes it as a fuse between “intimacy and empowerment into a modern atmosphere of honesty, new feminist humor, and rhythmic complexity.”
On September 21, a chilly Saturday night in Portland, Lovers took to the stage at Mississippi Studios for their album release party. Opening up for Lovers were local newcomers Night Cadet, followed by badass, bright-faced Tender Forever (nee Melanie Velera)—it was also her birthday at midnight. The crowd was alive with anticipation and admiration for Lovers, whose stage presence evokes electric energy—maybe more than ever. “I love to see how people react to the new material,” said Kingan. “It feels cathartic and intimate, which feels like a nice place, a good place for lovers,” added Berk.
Berk stands hauntingly close to the mic—patting her shirt, bobbing her legs back and forth, smiling on at Ferris who motions her arms high in the air from behind her killer sound board, grinning from cheek to cheek at Kingan behind the drums—the spine of Lovers, gluing the fusion of new and old songs alike into perfect temperance.
A Friend in the World opens with “Tiger Square” and elicits visions of boardwalks and ocean tides. Perhaps the standout single is “Modern Art Museum of the Modern Kiss Goodbye.” The beat will make you want to smack your hand against your pant leg, and there’s this sexy line, “Excuse me miss, when do we kiss?” It’s a complete vision of autumn, drawing a story-like night frolic between kids, murmuring “lift my spirit to a drunken opal sky.” To follow up, “Oh Yeah” fills up with a lingering, whispery chorus and there’s mention of a mysterious woman on the radio. “Lavender Light” continues to pave the theme of autumn. “Hey love, all you need is kindness / The right witch’s touch can uplift a heart.”
The new album is witchy. It celebrates women and mysticism; it conjures emotion built in a sacred space. “There’s a certain kind of landscape and culture and magic and feminism out here [in the Pacific Northwest] that I’m responding to. To me, the album has many prayers and reflections and it’s a prayer for magical sexiness with trust and honor. That cannot be too much to ask for. Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space,” Berk said. “That’s the shit we talk about! Kid you not!” added Kingan.
So what do these Lovers do when they aren’t recording and performing in the land that lends itself to their art? “I love to watch live music of all kinds, eat delicious things, garden and camp out with my babe, bike around, work on my tiny house. It’s a miracle to live in a city where all these things are possible at once,” Ferris said. Kingan wants to get out to the Oregon coast more to surf the Pacific, but in her spare time she’s been making furniture and making movies. Berk is down with anything animals and nature-oriented, going out to catch a new band, or staying home to make soup. That reminds me—I think I speak for fans everywhere when I suggest Kingan and Berk get back into their “Man Times” YouTube videos. Just saying.
Lovers is on a visionary quest of love and light, with a focus on new bodies of work that continue to progress. Original songs like “Peppermint” which was repurposed and treated with new sound in Darklight from its inception in 2002 off Starlit Sunken Ship is forever engrained in Lovers psyche, but the band doesn’t plan to revamp previous work anytime soon.
“It’s not some place I want to go back to exactly, but I know I might have some work to do there at some point in this certain way. It’s the closest to my mother and to her mother in this certain form, that I’ll ever be again—that first album. And so I am grateful—grateful that I have those documents so I don’t get too far from them, because they were home and I can get really sad looking for them in other people. They are in me. They are with me,” Berk said. But for the record, if “treatment” were to happen, ever, on any songs, Kingan really wants to revisit favorites like “Ginger,” “Where the Story Ends” and “Stay Lost.”
Berk cites Jay-Z as an artist who inspires. “I could see it. I knew he would reach over to Kurt Cobain and REM. God bless him.” This time around, the love feels like love found, like love gripped, love met, souls united, like there’s no turning back.
“It has been nice to move more deeply into musical roles that we had never assumed before working together, especially in an environment where the assumption is that you can be the one who does whatever you say you want to do,” Ferris said when reflecting on changes created and united in Lovers. This seventh album is about recognizing a lover, feeding their soul, and doing plenty of kissing in the graveyard.